A stag party?
To talk about the Washington woman?
It was my idea, a rebuttal of sorts to an article in Style Plus reporting on a "slumber party" of women in their 30s who got together to talk about the Washington man. They had a lot to say, and it wasn't all nice.
Twelve men, age 23 to 51, single, separated, divorced, from test pilot to government economist, agreed to gather in my apartment to talk about their experiences with Washington women, their gripes, their hopes, their opinions.
The ground rules were simple: Be blunt and honest; talk from personal experience; try to be objective about men's behavior as well as women's. All comments would be anonymous.
They were anxious to talk, and did so, for more than two hours, in shirt sleeves, loosened ties, some of them sitting on the floor. And it didn't take much beer and wine to trigger their anger at allegations that Washington men are dishonest and manipulative. They were downright indignant about the idea that they use the same line with different women.
"I don't know what men they're talking about," snorted a 30-year-old energy specialist. "I just don't behave that way toward women."
From the (Navy) test pilot, 46, who admitted being "depressed" about the overriding message of distrust: "We try to come across neat and considerate and they ask what's our game."
Many of the men saw the bitter slumber-party comments as signals of deep problems between the sexes in Washington.
A 51-year-old syndicated columnist suggested that Washington women go through three phases, none conducive to good male-female relations:
In their early to late 20s, they want to meet powerful people -- the famous senators, cabinet members. "They see their dates as mere escorts."
In their late 20s to early 30s, Washington women want a man, at least for weekends. "They want a quick connection, with little risk of rejection."
In their mid-30s they want to meet Mr. Right and possibly have one child, while trying simultaneously to climb higher on the Washington power ladder.
"They often set up hoops for us to jump through that are beyond our reach," lamented a 31-year-old writer for a high government official.
There were some poignant, near pleas for tolerance from women professionals.
"I'm a person with problems, weaknesses," said the columnist. "I could lose my job. Could I be a Mr. Right?"
"The more important you are, the better," muttered a 23-year-old graduate student and former theater employe. "If you tell them at a party that you're a trashman, they'll probably leave."
As an antidote to status-conscious women asking men for their credentials, the gray-haired journalist proffered: "Say, 'I am not at liberty to discuss it,' or 'I'm with the government.'"
"Women working on Capitol Hill are especially sensitive to high rank," claimed a 37-year-old personnel manager. "I can really feel the electricity in their search for power when I go up on the Hill."
Several men contended that if the Washington woman professional doesn't find Mr. Right, or men who meet her ideals, she becomes bitter and afraid.
"I know women with a lot on the ball, very attractive, free thinking, innovative, essentially fun-loving women who just stay home," said a 39-year-old defense policy consultant.
From the test pilot: "Give women masculine goals -- competition, achievement -- and they become more and more conflicted and lonely, regardless of what they tell each other.
"I've never met as many women in one city that are in therapy."
From the speechwriter: "Washington women get caught up in power-seeking careers and deny their emotional need for a relationship with a man."
The graduate student speculated that such criticism may be a man's way of covering up when he feels threatened by a Washington woman. "She may," he said, "be after your job."
One man confessed he suffered an identity crisis with a high-salaried powerful woman. "I became worried about whether I could support our life style if she quit or lost her job."
Anyone dating the Washington woman workalcoholic can expect to get, warned a 34-year-old trial attorney, the late-afternoon telephone call: "I can't see you tonight. I have to work late."
But, conceded several stag-party members, men play the same game of high ambition and shallow relationships.
"It's a cold, hideous city," said a 42-year-old former political aide who lost a powerful job and went through a devastating divorce. "The women from the slumber party are merely voicing the same hostility many men feel to the Washington environment."
Both sexes "pour energy and aspirations into the job and follow rigid codes for dress and play."
Added the columnist: "The goal of every man in Washington, D.C., is a three-piece suit, a college degree, and a burning ambition to be a GS-16."
"The oddities of Washington women," said the speechwriter, "spring from the oddities of this city."
The loneliness of this status-conscious city, sadly remarked the defense-policy specialist, is manifested in the hundreds who place magazine ads to make connections.
Sex in Washington was described by the Navy pilot as "a lot of unhappy people perpetuating a tribal rite."
The result of women seeking new roles, and men trying to hold their own, is a "standoff between female and male," said the trial attorney.
The graduate student was more optimistic: "Washington men and women are still kind of in the testing stage. We'll eventually work out some new ground rules for falling in love."
Some men said they circumvent the conflicts by dating younger women.
"There's a pool of unspoiled young adults, under 25," said a 40-year-old Georgetown bar owner. "They're exciting, growing, never been burned."
Countered a 30-year-old energy specialist: "I can relate to the younger women in this town. Older women are more fun, more compassionate."
Because of the "one-company-town" atmosphere, Washington women, most of the men agreed, are different from those in other cities.
"The Washington woman is more conservative in her life style," said the graduate student, who while in the entertainment field dated women from many cities. "Chicago women are better dressed. New York women are freer sexually."
An investor in his 30s disagreed about existence of The Washington Woman. "Thank God," he sighed, "there is not. There is a big segment of women not oriented to the government. Teachers, lawyers, psychologists, clerical workers, They're anything but power-hungry. They're interesting and warm and outgoing. A real delight."
Whoever she is, commented several men at the stag party, the Washington woman is easy to meet.
"I meet them on the elevators, stop them in cars," said the bar owner.
"Even in a city as rancid as Washington is socially you can find a way," agreed the speechwriter. "The problem isn't meeting them. It's relating to them."
And if the stag party could ask Washington women to change?
"Let down the defenses. Be open and honest."
"Less uptight. Less afraid."
"More women in their 20s who want to find Mr. Right."
"It would be nice if they would grow up and come out of the closet and admit they're heterosexual."
"Less of their self-worth tied into a job or popularity."
"Take a risk. Men too. Losing can be fun."
"More commitments. I believe in the supremacy of monogamy."
"A desire to find common interests and equality."
"A willingness to do simple things. Enjoy the leaves changing in Rock Creek Park."
The government speechwriter had no suggestions: "I have just found a woman I like."